Movie review by Greg Carlson

The best thing about “Hancock” is its tight running time. In recent history, the Fourth of July weekend plus Will Smith’s impervious likability equals substantial box office receipts, but “Hancock” is poor to the point of insulting – a sarcastic metafiction that appears to have been assembled by committee. Word is that the original screenplay went through major rewrites, but regardless of the script’s origins, the garbage that ended up on the screen is a complete misfire. With a steady stream of winks to the audience, “Hancock” wants to send up the superhero genre, but it depends too much on its cruddy CG effects and a rote climactic showdown to make an effective argument for satire.

Smith plays the title character, a reluctant, almost suicidal do-gooder who so loathes his role as a Los Angeles-based, crime-stopping savior that he has taken to drink, profanity, sarcasm, and property damage to overcompensate for his super services. As embodied by Smith, Hancock has all the necessary ingredients for a terrific character. It’s the writing that lets him down scene after scene. After establishing a relationship between the derelict hero and a PR executive whose life Hancock saves, an insensible plot twist is sprung on the audience a little more than halfway through the film. It might be unfair to share the details of this revelation, but the result is so goofy, it belongs in another movie, like “Highlander.”

Charlize Theron factors into the cockamamie surprise, and like Smith she is engaging even when saddled with a wholly wretched character. Theron, as much as Smith, is called upon to do all sorts of things that snap credulity in two, and she does them with a conviction the movie doesn’t deserve. She plays the doting wife of Jason Bateman’s public relations man, and by the time the film gets around to its water-drenched climax, Theron suffers the indignity of writhing in agony in a hospital bed while all hell breaks loose around her. The sight of it is sheer nonsense, and one cannot help but feel a little bit embarrassed for the Academy Award winner.

“Hancock” is a tasteless brew of competing themes, agendas, and cinematic styles. Director Peter Berg stages too much of the action in frustrating, handheld close-up, and the result is a nauseating tour of the lead actors’ nostrils and facial pores. Tobias Schliessler’s gritty cinematography suggests that “Hancock” might have intended to construct a more plausible universe than the ones offered up in recent Marvel and D.C. adaptations. Too bad that the story finds no incentive to follow through on the possibilities, opting instead to lard the pietistic, self-satisfied displays with juvenile gross-outs revolving around Hancock’s ability to literally shove a man’s head up another man’s rectum.

Such touches, along with Hancock’s disdain for wearing a costume that might be perceived as less than straight, flaunts a boorish homophobia that undermines the movie’s position as an enlightened social commentary. Berg spends too much time with his hand on the throttle of squishy exposition and incomprehensible backstory, and neither endears Mr. Hancock to the viewer. The movie’s ending is a shambles, reintroducing the most forgettable hook-handed villain in recent memory. “Hancock” is a sickening waste of the talents involved and should be avoided even if a friend offers to buy you a ticket.

This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 7/7/08.

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